Development of Language
and Symbol Use
How Children Develop (3rd ed.)
Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg
Chapter 6
Guiding Questions
What distinguishes symbols from language?
What are the major components of language
What is necessary for language to develop?
What is babbling?
What process do children undergo in order to
learn language?
What language skills do children possess at
each stage of development?
Using Language Involves...
Language comprehension: Refers to
understanding what others say (or
sign or write)
Language production: Refers to
actually speaking (or signing or
writing) to others
Major Components of
Required Competencies
for Learning Language
Phonological Development
Phonological development: the acquisition of knowledge about
phonemes, the elementary units of sound that distinguish
Semantic Development
Semantic development: learning the system for expressing
meaning in a language, beginning with morphemes, the smallest
unit of meaning in a language
Syntactic Development
Syntactic development: learning the
syntax or rules for combining words
Pragmatic Development
Pragmatic development: acquiring
knowledge of how language is used,
which includes understanding a variety
of conversational conventions
What is required for
language to develop?
A Human Brain
A Human Environment
A Human Brain
The key to full-fledged language
development is in the human brain:
Language is a species-specific behavior
Only humans acquire a communication
system with the complexity, structure, and
generativity of language.
Language is also species-universal:
Virtually all humans develop language
Although some nonhuman primates have been
trained to use signs or other symbols after
concentrated effect by humans, there appears
to be little evidence that they have acquired
Brain-Language Relations
Language processing involves a substantial degree
of functional localization in the brain.
The left hemisphere shows some specialization for language in
infancy, although the degree of hemispheric specialization for
language increases with age.
Studies of individuals with brain damage resulting in
aphasia provide evidence of specialization for
language within the left hemisphere.
Damage to Broca’s area, near the motor cortex, is associated
with difficulties in producing speech.
Damage to Wernicke’s area, which is near the auditory cortex, is
linked to difficulties with meaning.
Critical Period for Language Development
To learn language, children must also be exposed to
other people using language—spoken or signed.
Sometime between age 5 and puberty, language
acquisition becomes much more difficult and ultimately
less successful.
Difficulties feral children (such as Genie) have in acquiring
language in adolescence.
Comparisons of the effects of brain damage suffered at different
ages on language.
Language capabilities of bilingual adults who acquired their
second language at different ages.
Knowledge of the fine points of English grammar, for example, was
related to the age at which individuals were exposed to English, but
not to the total length of their exposure to the language.
Bilingual Children
More than half of the world’s children are exposed
to more than one language.
Children who are acquiring two languages do not
seem to confuse them.
They may initially lag behind monolingual children, although the
course and rate of development for children learning one and
two languages are similar.
Bilingual children perform better on a variety of
cognitive tests than do monolingual children
Hence, the advantages of acquiring two languages outweigh
the minor disadvantages.
Hemispheric Differences
in Language Processing
Adults who learned a
second language at 1 to
3 years of age show the
normal pattern of
greater left-hemisphere
activity in a test of
grammatical knowledge
(darker colors indicate
greater activation).
Those who learned the
language later show
increased righthemisphere activity.
Learning English
as a Second Language
A major debate in the U. S. has centered around
the best classroom practice for children who are not
yet fluent in English.
One side advocates immersion into English.
The other side recommends initial instruction in basic
subjects in the native
language with gradual
increases in the amount
of instruction in English.
The latter approach can
prevent semilingualism—
inadequate proficiency
in both languages.
Test of the
Critical-Period Hypothesis
Performance on a test
of English grammar
by adults originally
from Korea and China
was directly related to
the age at which they
came to the United
States and were
exposed to English.
The scores of adults
who emigrated before
the age of 7 are
from those of native
English speakers.
A Human Environment
Infant-directed talk (IDT) is the distinctive mode of
speech that adults adopt when talking to babies and
very young children.
It is common throughout the
world, but it is not universal
Its characteristics include a warm
and affectionate tone, high pitch,
extreme intonation, and slower
speech accompanied by
exaggerated facial expressions
Infants prefer IDT to speech directed to adults.
What is the process
by which language
typically develops?
Speech Perception
Preparation for Production
3. First Words
4. Putting Words Together
5. Conversational Skills
6. Later Development
1. Speech Perception
Fetuses appear to be sensitive to prosody, the
characteristic rhythm, tempo, cadence, melody,
intonational patterns, and so forth with which a
language is spoken.
Variations in prosody are in large part responsible for why
languages sound so different from one another, and why
speakers of the same language can sound so distinctive.
Beyond prosody, speech perception also involves
distinguishing among the speech sounds that make
a difference in a given language.
Categorical Perception of
Speech Sounds
Both adults and infants possess
categorical perception of speech sounds
(the perception of speech sounds as
belonging to discrete categories).
The two phonemes /b/ and /p/ occur along an acoustic
continuum except that they differ in voice onset time
(VOT)--the length of time between when air passes
through the lips and when the vocal cords start vibrating.
Categorical Perception
of Speech by Adults
When adults listen to a tape of artificial speech sounds
that gradually change from one sound to another, such
as /ba/ to /pa/ or vice versa, they suddenly switch from
perceiving one sound to perceiving the other.
Categorical Perception of
Speech Sounds by Infants
1- and 4-month-olds were
habituated to a tape of
artificial speech sounds.
Group habituated to /ba/
(VOT=20) dishabituated to
/pa/ (VOT=40), and group
habituated to /pa/ (VOT=60)
continued to habituation to
/pa/ (VOT =80)
These findings suggest that,
like adults, infants perceive
speech categorically.
Developmental Changes in
Speech Perception
Infants’ ability to
discriminate between
speech sounds not in their
native language declines
between 6 and 12 months of
Six-month-olds from
English-speaking families
readily discriminate
between syllables in Hindi
(blue bars) and Nthlakapmx
(green bars), but 10- to 12month-olds do not.
Sensitivity to Regularities in Speech
In addition to focusing on the speech
sounds that are used in their native
language, infants become increasingly
sensitive to many of the numerous
regularities in that language.
Stress patterns: an element of prosody
Distributional properties: in any language,
certain sounds are more likely to appear
together than are others
Their own name: as early as 5 months they
show the “cocktail party effect”
2. Preparation for Production
At around 6 to 8 weeks of age,
infants begin producing drawn out
vowel sounds.
As the repertoire of sounds they can
produce expands, infants become
increasingly aware that their
vocalizations elicit responses from
others and they begin to engage in
dialogues of reciprocal sounds with
their parents.
Sometime between 6 and 10 months of age,
infants begin to babble by repeating strings of sounds
comprising a consonant followed by a vowel.
A key component of the development of babbling is
receiving feedback about the sounds one is producing.
Congenitally deaf babies’ vocal babbling occurs late and is very limited,
unless they are exposed to sign language, in which case they produce
repetitions of hand movements that are components of ASL signs in a
manner analogous to vocal babbling among hearing infants.
As infants’ babbling becomes more varied, it conforms
more to the sounds, rhythm, and intonation patterns of
the language they hear daily.
Silent Babbling
Babies who are exposed to the sign language of their
deaf parents engage in “silent babbling.”
A subset of their hand movements differ from those of infants
exposed to spoken language in that their slower rhythm
corresponds to the rhythmic patterning of adult sign.
Early Interactions
Even before infants start speaking, they develop
interactive routines similar to those required in the
use of language for communication.
Turn taking: apparent in simple games like “Give-and-Take”
Intersubjectivity: the sharing of a common focus of attention
by two or more people
Joint attention: established when the baby and the parent are
looking at and reacting to the same thing in the world around
Pointing: helps establish joint attention among infants older
than 9 months of age, and by age 2, children use pointing to
deliberately direct the attention of another person
3. First Words
Infants first recognize words, then comprehend
them, then begin to produce some of the words they
have learned.
By 5 months of age, infants can pick their own name
out of background conversations.
At 7 to 8 months of age, infants readily learn to
recognize new words and remember them for weeks.
In general, infants are better able to identify words when they are
listening to IDT.
The Problem of Reference
Once infants can recognize
recurrent units from the speech
they hear, they must address
the problem of reference, the
associating of words and
Infants may begin associating
highly familiar words and
referents by 6 months of age.
By 10 months, children in the
U.S. have comprehension
vocabularies of about 11-154
Word Production
Most infants produce their first words
between 10-15 months of age.
First words typically include names for people, objects, and
events from everyday life.
The period of one-word utterances is referred to as
the holophrastic period, because the child typically
expresses a “whole phrase” with a single word.
Overextension, using a given word in a broader
context than is appropriate, represents an effort to
communicate despite a limited vocabulary.
Adult Influences on Word Learning
A spurt in vocabulary growth typically occurs at
around 19 months, although there is great variability.
The rate of vocabulary development is influenced by
the sheer amount of talk that they hear.
Caregivers play an important role in word learning by placing
stress on new words and saying them in the final position in a
sentence, by labeling objects that are already in the child’s
attention, and by playing naming games.
Repeating words also helps children acquire them.
Variability in Language Development
Style of acquisition: The set of strategies that
young children enlist in beginning to speak.
Children who use referential or analytic style analyze the
speech stream into individual phonetic elements and words;
their first utterances are often isolated, monosyllabic words.
Those using expressive or holistic style pay more
attention to the overall sound of language, its rhythmic and
intonational patterns.
Children using the wait-and-see style often begin to speak
very late but then have a large vocabulary and quickly
acquire more words.
These different styles, however, have little if any effect on
the ultimate outcome of the process of learning to talk.
Children’s Contributions to
Word Learning
Fast mapping is the process of rapidly learning
a new word simply from the contrastive use of
a familiar and unfamiliar word.
A number of assumptions (also called
constraints or biases) guide children’s
acquisitions of word meanings.
The whole-object assumption leads children to expect a
novel word to refer to a whole object, not a part.
The mutual exclusivity assumption (also called the
novel name–nameless category principle) leads children
to expect that a given entity will have only one name.
Meaning from Context
Children use pragmatic cues, aspects of the
social context used for word learning.
These include the adult’s focus of attention and
Children also use the linguistic context in
which novel words appear to help infer
their meaning.
Syntactic bootstrapping is a strategy in which
children use the grammatical structure of whole
sentences to figure out meaning.
4. Putting Words Together
Most children begin to combine words into simple
sentences by the end of their second year.
Children’s first sentences are two-word utterances
that have been described as telegraphic speech
because nonessential elements are missing.
Word order is preserved in early sentences, indicating children’s
understanding of syntax.
Once children are capable of producing four-word
sentences, generally at around 2½ years of age, they
begin to produce sentences containing more than
one clause.
Learning Grammar
The strongest support for the idea that young
children are learning grammatical rules comes
from their production of word endings.
Further evidence is provided by
overregularization, speech errors in which
children treat irregular forms of words as if they
were regular.
Parents play a role in children’s grammatical
development by modeling correct grammar and
expanding incomplete utterances.
However, parents are more likely to correct factually
inaccurate statements than grammatically incorrect ones.
5. Conversational Skills
Much of very young children’s speech is
directed toward themselves.
Collective monologues: The content of each child’s
turn having little or nothing to do with what the other
child has just said.
The extent to which children talk about the
past increases dramatically over the
preschool period.
Whereas 3-year-olds include brief references to past
events, 5-year-olds produce narratives, descriptions
of past events that have the basic structure of a story.
Parents scaffold their young children’s narratives by
asking for elaboration.
6. Later Development
The ability to sustain a
conversation, which
grew so dramatically in
the preschool years,
continues to improve
for many years
As children get older, their
conversational turns
become increasingly more
related to what the other
person has just said.

Siegler Chapter 6: Development of Language and Symbol …